Comic book fans may as well have taken over Hollywood this summer. The sizzling heat has been accompanied by a slew of superhero supermovies and comic book creations. Already the geeks have been drooling over “Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Hancock,” and the forthcoming “The Dark Knight.” With so many of these movies dominating box offices I hope that the geeks don’t pass up the opportunity to see another of the lesser-known heroes come alive on the big screen, again.
“Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” is an imaginative and boisterous movie brought to the screen by the enigmatic yet elegant Guillermo del Toro. The film is the follow-up to the 2004 original so it doesn’t suffer from the drag of origin stories that have become so customary. The movie simply prefaces those who missed “Hellboy,” with a short title card explaining what you need to know: the creature nicknamed Hellboy was recovered during World War II by U.S. troops and now works for the government.
Played by Ron Perlman, Hellboy is a boastful, rugged outsider who deals with paranormal activity for Uncle Sam. Accompanied by his gilled-up fish friend, Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), his sizzling hot girlfriend, Liz (Selma Blair who’s apparently still alive), and a German ectoplasmic “gasbag” voiced by Seth MacFarlane, Hellboy is sent to investigate further into a creature vs. human war started by an underworld prince who wants to raise a seemingly indestructible golden army. All the while, Hellboy is dealing with the daunting fact that he may be an outsider for the rest of his life; forever to be mistreated by the very human population that he risks his life trying to protect.
Much like “Wall-E” already has this summer, “Golden Army,” too, takes a grim look at the human race. Again, like “Wall-E,” the unfamiliar look of Hellboy and the other beautifully scary creatures are presented as the most human in the story. The audience is intended to look beyond the thick, red skin of Hellboy and see a man who wants only to love his girlfriend. This is accompanied by the ever so popularizing theme that humans are destroying the planet, filled with “a hole in their hearts” of greed. There’s a scene late in the movie that exemplifies this in a very del Toro way, with a giant green monster (Republicans beware), some big guns, and a calming peace after the action.
It’s hard these days not to make a movie without computer generated imagery, like “Hellboy II” does. CGI is used now for such simple things as putting more clouds in the sky, but it shows in the film’s lack of these special effects that del Toro values the look and feel of something physical. While del Toro does use some CGI, he combines it with costumes, makeup, and puppets, to create an environment that’s entirely reminiscent of the Cantina scene in the original “Star Wars.” The result is an underworld full of creatures and species that are fascinating and more entertaining to watch than if they had been drawn up on a computer. Simply put, it’s easier to immerse yourself in this imaginary world without the distraction of heavy-use of computer special effects.
“Hellboy II” is a movie full of visual feasts, whether it be in the wonderfully choreographed action sequences or the colorful yet dreary cinematic compositions. Del Toro is a master of his art and doesn’t fail to excite the eyes with his control over the camera. It’s a joy to watch a movie by a director who is so confident in what he wants, because the visuals don’t ever get in the way of telling the story, instead they enhance it. This is exactly what del Toro is good at. Walking out of the theater, the audiences will remember how scenes looked just as much as what happened in them.
Perhaps the only complaint to be brought against “Hellboy II” is the campy dialogue and juvenile love scenes. I understand why they are included, we are supposed to let the love storylines drive the major arc of the story and indeed they do play an important role in the main plot, but it sometimes seems that del Toro had trouble grasping how much and where to fit it into the story. As for the cheesiness, it is a comic book movie and as such some of the lines seem lifted straight out of those cartooned pages.
But this is a movie that is made for the comic book fans at its heart, del Toro understands the culture and creates a visual feast with a compelling story. I had not seen the first movie before venturing into this sequel, but did not find that it hurt my movie going experience one bit. In fact, seeing the first one, I’m sure, will only enhance the fun of the follow-up. “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” is the epitome of a summer popcorn flick: it takes you into a brilliantly imaginative world to get lost for a couple hours.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Seth MacFarlane, Luke Gross
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and some language
Synopsis: Hellboy must battle underworld demons who are trying to raise an indestructible army to destroy humankind
Runtime: 120 minutes